March 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)March proved a fallow month as my reviewing mojo seemed to temporarily desert me- only four books reviewed- slapped wrists! I also seemed to spend too much time giving some books the benefit of the doubt, and read past my forty page rule with dire results. I persisted with one for 200+ pages (out of 700), but just couldn’t face any more of it, and a few others fell by the wayside too.  However, to even up my reviewing this round-up includes a couple more that I didn’t get around to reviewing in March, so keep reading…

April will definitely prove more fruitful where I am taking part in four blog tours for David Jackson- A Tapping At My Door, Manda Jennings- In Her Wake, C. J. Carver- Spare Me The Truth and Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City. There are also a few releases from March to race through, and a plethora of great crime fiction publishing scheduled for April and May. Exciting times for crime fiction fans. Also I would implore you to catch up with the televisual treat that is Follow The Money– a terrific new Scandi-drama currently airing on BBC4- featuring mesmerising performances from Bo Larsen and Natalie Madueno- it’s brilliant! Am also slightly in mourning at the end of The Night Manager which was totally gripping and kept me hooked, but have high hopes for its replacement Undercover starring Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester in the 9pm Sunday night slot on the jolly old BBC. We shall see…

Books read and reviewed:

Quentin Bates- Thin Ice

Kate McQuaile- What She Never Told Me

 Yusuf Toropov- Jihadi: A Love Story

Katie Medina- Fire Damage

I also read…

9781910477250_190x290Pascal Garnier- Too Close To The Edge

Recently widowed grandmother Éliette is returning to her home in the mountains when her micro-car breaks down. A stranger comes to her aid on foot. Éliette offers him a lift, glad of the interruption to her humdrum routine. That night, her neighbours’ son is killed in a road accident. Could the tragedy be linked to the arrival of her good Samaritan?

Being a confirmed devotee of the late, great, Pascal Garnier, it was lovely to discover another of his bijou, but dark and disturbing treats. He has such a singular knack for taking the reader into a surprising and,  at times, darkly humorous direction in such a compressed length of fiction, and Too Close To The Edge is no exception. After a rustic and genteel opening charting the life of widow Eliette newly ensconced in her French rural retreat, Garnier disrupts the apparent new-found harmony of her life in an exceptionally violent manner, with sex, drugs and twisted emotions, coming to thwart her peaceful existence, but also allowing her room to discover elements of life that she has had no experience of, and the change her perception of the world undergoes through this. It’s deft, violent, funny and perfect, further demonstrating the void that the much-loved Garnier leaves in his wake.

(With thanks to Gallic for the ARC)

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Steffen Jacobsen- Retribution

On a warm Autumn afternoon, Tivoli Gardens – Denmark’s largest amusement park – is devastated by a terrorist attack. 1,241 people are killed. The unknown bomber is blown to bits; the security forces have no leads. One year later, the nation is still reeling, and those behind the attack are still at large. Amidst the increasingly frustrated police force, Superintendent Lene Jensen is suffering the effects of tragedy closer to home. Everyone is aware the terrorists may soon strike again. Then Lene receives a strange call. A young desperate Muslim woman needs her help, but by the time Lene reaches her she’s already dead – supposedly suicide. Already suspicious, Lene’s initial investigations suggest that the woman was unknowingly part of a secret services research project. Silenced by her superiors, Lene turns to her old ally Michael Sander to dig deeper. But with even her allies increasingly adamant her actions are a risk to national security, Lene begins to understand that finding the truth might be the most dangerous thing of all.

As part of my mission to get everyone in the world reading Danish crime author Steffen Jacobsen ( I’ve previously reviewed When The Dead Awaken and Trophy ) this is his latest. With recent events in Brussels a stark reminder of the danger posed by terrorist action, Jacobsen addresses this theme sensitively, but with brutal honesty throughout the book. Jacobsen constructs a twisting and pulsating examination of the difficulties faced by the security services and police in thwarting terrorism, and takes the reader from homeland Denmark to the Middle East in the course of the story. By presenting the reader with numerous viewpoints of the war on terror, and the innocents and not-so-innocent caught up in its wake, there is always a sense of brutal reality to his writing, without the gung-ho one dimensional view of events so often seen in thriller writing with this particular premise.

There is a real sensitivity in Jacobsen’s writing that makes the reader sit up and think about the events and people he portrays, not only with the prescient events of the book, but also in the additional exploration he makes into psychological territory, particularly evident in the character of Superintendent Lene Jensen, who for my money is one of the most roundly formed, well-written, and interesting police protagonists in the Scandinavian genre. Indeed, Jacobsen exhibits a masterly touch with all of his female protagonists from Lene herself to her boss Charlotte Falster, and mercurial psychologist Irene Adler. He imbues all of these characters with a welcome balance of strength, intelligence and wit, along with a necessary Achilles Heel that is never in detriment to our overall perception of them, but increases our respect and empathy, and more importantly makes them believable. With such an assured use of characterisation, and his natural ability of damn fine storytelling, Jacobsen seldom disappoints, and this tale will keep you on your toes, and totally gripped throughout. A clever, exciting and very readable thriller.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of The Month

….is delayed until next month as choosing just one book from only six reviewed seemed a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child. So these excellent six will be added to April’s tally and there may even be more than one book of the month. Who knows?

See you in April!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Okay- so where the heck did February go? Seems I have only just posted January’s round-up, and am feeling the effects of a busy month indeed. A month of mixed fortunes as far as reading goes, with 5 non-starters (3 of which did not even get a sniff of the magical 40 page rule) and the endless battle to juggle my crime and fiction reading commitments. I feel like I’m in real confessional mode now! Anyhow….moving on to business…

Books reviewed this month…

Helen Fitzgerald- Viral

Manchette’s Fatale- Adapted by Max Cabanes and Doug Headline

Oscar de Muriel- A Fever of the Blood

Chris Ould- The Blood Strand 

Joe Flanagan- Lesser Evils

Travis Mulhauser- Sweetgirl

Augusto de Angelis- The Murdered Banker

41QNtHNg+sL__SX327_BO1,204,203,200_So, in addition to the 7 reviews I did manage to post, I also read Valerio Varesi’s A Woman Much Missed. I’m rather partial to this series set in Parma, and featuring the world weary detective Commisario Soneri, a man who seems to have a deep rooted dislike of everybody and everything. He has a problem with delegation, is a melancholic flaneur with commitment issues, but in his favour has no qualms about donning a duffel coat. I do like a man in a duffel coat. What I particularly liked about this one, was the way that it re-traced the early days of his relationship with his late wife, and the secrets this threw up in its wake. There is always a languorous and meditative feel to Varesi’s writing that puts me in mind of Simenon, but counterbalanced by moments of immorality and violence that appear all the more shocking as they punch through the slowly unfolding plot. If you haven’t tried Varesi before, he really is worth a look…

I’ve also been indulging my penchant for war fiction by picking up Matt Gallagher’s Iraq based novel Young Blood which seems to be pushing the same emotional buttons as last month’s Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker. Also currently reading Tightrope by Simon Mawer– a superb tale of spies, lies and espionage; a curious and unsettling American tale called Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh , and a whisker away from finishing Danish crime novel Retribution by the brilliant Steffen Jacobsen– to be reviewed soon. Still a teetering to read pile,  and two blog tours on the horizon this month too. Deep breaths and focus…

Raven’s Book of the Month

JOEDespite the paucity of reviews this month this was a good eclectic mix and each book had something to recommend it. However, this month my heart belonged to debut author Joe Flanagan for Lesser Evils- a brilliantly constructed and compelling crime novel set in 1950’s Cape Cod, that tackled some weighty issues as well as providing a multi-layered and emotive plot that I was utterly caught up in from start to finish. Marvellous. I just want to read it again….

 

 

October Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

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It was wonderful to host an exclusive Q&A with Dwayne Alexander Smith and to take part in the blog tour for the release of Luca Veste’s The Dying Place, but a month of total frustration reading-wise which saw my normal list of 10 or more severely curtailed! Due to the time pressures of reading and reviewing, I now have ‘the 40 page rule’.  So if a book has not piqued my interest, be it with characterisation, location, the writing style or other random points of interest that I look for, it gets consigned to the slush pile. Some people have questioned me on the wisdom of this, but having seen other reviews of books I’ve abandoned, some people have suffered excruciating mental torment in their dogged determination to read to the end. Sadly, the axe fell on six books this month which didn’t make the grade in terms of what hooks me in- a well-crafted writing style, a-smack-between-the-eyes plotline, or an endearing or likeably dislikeable protagonist. It also means that I have more time now to unearth some real gems, and as I am participating in Crime Fiction Lover.com  New Talent November features, (see next post) a chance to discover some cracking new authors. Fear not though, I have already read three incredibly strong books for release in November, and looking at the to-be-read pile they will have good company I’m sure…

Raven reviewed:

Val McDermid- Forensics: The Anatomy Of Crime

Ryan David Jahn- The Gentle Assassin

Steffen Jacobsen- Trophy

Marco Malvaldi- Three Card Monte (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Luca Veste- The Dying Place

 

Book of the Month

jahnRyan David Jahn- The Gentle Assassin:

Seems a tad unfair to only have 5 to choose from this month, but having waited a good while for a new one from the exceptionally talented Mr Jahn, I could not award this to anyone else. Once again, Jahn lifts the ordinary crime thriller to join the ranks of the best contemporary American fiction writers, with this thoughtful, emotional and genuinely engaging novel. With its careful interweaving of two timelines, and two central characters that effortlessly carry the emotional weight of this compelling thriller, this may well feature in my end of year Top 5. Watch this space…

 

Happy reading everyone!

Steffen Jacobsen- Trophy

steffAlready a bestseller in Europe, Trophy is the second of Jacobsen’s books to be released in the UK, following the excellent When The Dead Awaken With one of the most atmospheric and terrifying opening chapters I have ever read, Jacobsen delights in ramping up the tension, and exposing the grimmest aspects of the human character, amongst the most privileged class of society…

This is a tale of immorality, greed and violence that Scandinavian crime fans will savour, drawing as it does, in a similar style to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, on the less than savoury activities of a wealthy family, and its recently deceased patriarchal figure of Flemming Casperson. Casperson had built his business empire on technology crucial to military weapon systems, but is quickly revealed as financially rich but morally bankrupt with the discovery of a DVD implicating him in a macabre human manhunt for sport. His daughter, and potential heir to the family business-Sonartek- enlists the help of deep cover investigator Michael Sander, to discover her father’s role in this dark past-time, and as it happens its connection to the strange suicide of an ex-soldier, Kim Anderson, on his wedding day being investigated by feisty detective Lene Jensen. As Sander and Jensen’s paths cross in the course of their separate investigations, they find themselves embroiled in a sinister and violent conspiracy, and the exposure of some unsettling truths which threaten both their lives.

The characterisation throughout the book is absolutely superb, and Jacobsen’s central protagonists of Sander and Jensen, carry the book effortlessly throughout. Sander is a wonderful construct, with all the nous and cynicism of a traditional hardbitten private detective, operating below the radar of mainstream society and a difficult man to enlist for hire. He is singularly unimpressed by the wealth and power of the Caspersons, and of Casperson’s shady business partner, Victor Schmidt and his sons, Henrik and Jakob, but this a lucrative investigation and his moral integrity is at the fore in his decision to get to the heart of this dark and morally baseless crime. Jensen proves herself a wonderful foil to Sander throughout the book, with her sense of justice equally inflamed by the repercussions of his investigation, onto her own into the senseless suicide of Anderson and the unearthing of his connection to the Caspersons. It was heartening to read a thriller not based on any unbelievable sexual tensions between Sander and Jensen, and I loved the equal balance of power and tenacity afforded to both characters regardless of gender, and the personal moments of crisis that arise for them when their investigation reverberates into the lives of family and friends. Jacobsen also succeeds fully in his characterisation of the Caspersons and Schmidts, with their battle for supremacy and control in the Sonartek empire, fuelled by greed and a moral bankruptcy that was shocking but entirely believable.

The plotting was terrific throughout, and I loved the way that Jacobsen incorporated the military detail of the backgrounds of some of the protagonists, pivoting the location of the book between Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and Scandinavia. The relentless pace of Sander and Jensen’s striving for the truth, is interspersed with scenes that are shocking and violent, and consequently this was a book that could not be left alone for long. The denouement of the book is excellent and mirrors completely the shock value of the opening chapter, with a neat and entirely credible twist at the end as well. Another winner for me from Jacobsen, and a testament to the continuing rude health of the Scandinavian crime genre. Fully deserving of a trophy itself!

(With thanks to MidasPR/Quercus for the ARC)

 

Steffen Jacobsen- When The Dead Awaken

Sabrina D’Avalos’s father was murdered by the mafia. Now a district attorney, she wants justice, or revenge. Whichever comes first. The Camorra, one of the oldest criminal organisations in Italy, runs Naples. More powerful, more violent and richer than the Sicilian mafia, its hold is unshakeable. When Sabrina investigates a family found dead in a shipping container, she quickly uncovers links to the Camorra – and her father. The mafia’s most terrifying assassins are on Sabrina’s trail. But Sabrina is desperate to find out the truth about her father, despite the deadly risks she is taking.

An exceptionally good crime read from a new-to-me Danish author appearing for the first time in English, When The Dead Awaken is a thriller not to be missed. Drawing on the influence of Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah, Jacobsen has fashioned an enthralling thriller set in Naples and focusing primarily on the criminal activities of this feared criminal organisation, but also the frustrations of and danger to those that seek to bring them to justice…

The first thing that strikes me about When The Dead Awaken, is Jacobsen’s fluid and totally engaging writing style. His prose just pulls you in, not only in the sense of location and atmosphere, but also by the little vignettes of the socio-political complexity of Italy that he melds into the central narrative. He makes it abundantly clear that the forces of justice in Italy work so at odds with each other, that the growth of organised crime over many years still remains largely unchecked due to the lack of communication and cooperation between the various factions. This is reflected strongly in his central protagonist, Sabrina D’Avalo, a public prosecutor whose father was murdered by the Mafia, working for the public prosecutor Frederico Renda (himself a victim of the Camorra’s wrath), being set on the trail of the Camorra after the discovery of two bodies identified as having been in a witness protection programme. Sabrina not only has to elude the grasp of the criminals who pursue her, but also navigate her own relationship with the mysterious Nestore Raspallo who has been commissioned by Renda to watch her back. Where this book come into it’s own is not only in the tension we experience through Sabrina’s dangerous investigation, but how Jacobsen also incorporates a view of her investigation through the eyes of the head of this branch of the Camorra, Don Francesco and his right hand man- Urs Savelli- a fixer with a dark past and one of the most compelling characters in the book. Add into the mix the story of Giulio Forlani currently residing under the radar in the rural tranquillity of Castellarano, but with his own reasons for avoiding the attentions of the Camorra, and these different storylines solidify how Jacobsen manipulates and weaves the individual strands into one contiguous whole in such a readable style. Likewise, the characters mentioned are extremely well-drawn, and Sabrina D’Avalo centres the whole book, being clever, intuitive and driven by her own demons. She assumes the same aura of feminine strength as Steig Larsson’s Lisbeth or Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, holding the reader in her thrall throughout and stoutly supported by an equally strong cast of male characters, be they on the side of justice or crime. Not only is the plot extremely pacey and tense, but there are also rare little injections of humour, and some of Jacobsen’s physical descriptions of characters are a delight. I loved this one of a hotel receptionist, “She smiled. Or her upper lip curled, at any rate. Sabrina was mesmerised by tiny clumps of lipstick stuck to the black strands of hair on her upper lip. Like tiny unripe cherries, they swayed in the stream of air to and from the nostrils.” Marvellous.

This is an easy book to recommend, harnessing as it does the very factors that make both Italian and Scandinavian crime so popular. Sublime plotting, superb characterisation, a nod to the socio-political climate and a real sense of location all knitted together in a truly gripping thriller. Highly recommend this one.

Steffen Jacobsen is an orthopaedic surgeon and consultant. This is his third novel. He was inspired to write When The Dead Awaken by Roberto Saviano’s non-fiction book Gomorrah, about the Camorra and by his travels around Italy. When The Dead Awaken is perfect for fans of The Killing, The Wire and The Godfather. Jacobsen’s bestseller Trophy has been number one in the Danish bestseller chart. He lives in Denmark with his wife and children.

(With thanks to Midas PR/Quercus for the arc)